How to Recover Unpaid Wages Through Small Claims Court in New York State

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You can file a claim in the small claims courts of New York state to get money an employer owes you for unpaid wages. Small claims in New York cannot exceed $3,000 in town and village courts, or $5,000 in city courts, and you can sue for a cash amount only. You must document the unpaid earnings, correspondence with the employer and follow small claims procedures to get a hearing on the case.

Write a letter of demand asking the employer for the unpaid wages. Include dates and hours worked, the agreed-upon wages and the total money owed. Make a copy of the letter. Send the letter to the employer by certified mail, with a return receipt. Copy the returned receipt and keep with the letter copy. Keep records and copies of any correspondence with the employer.

Gather documentation of unpaid wages. Include signed contracts and labor agreements and any other proof. You can file evidence with the claim in New York. Make copies.

Contact the county clerk of the county of employer's main location. You must have the exact name of the employer's business in New York. Ask the clerk to verify the employer's business name. Write down the name.

Find the local small claims court. New York has small claims courts in all cities, towns and villages, but you must use the district courts if you live in Nassau County or the western part of Suffolk County. Visit the official website of the New York State Unified Court System to view court locations (see Resources.)

Visit the small claims court. Bring the evidence, a copy of the demand letter and the return receipt. Ask the clerk for a small claims form. Complete the form. Include the important claim information, such as the dates and hours of unpaid work, the date you mailed a demand letter to the employer and the names of persons you spoke to at the employer's about the money. Attach the evidence copies, the letter copy and the mailing receipt copy to the claim form.

Pay the filing fee. Fees vary by claim amount and court municipality. The fee for claims less than $1,001 in New York town and village courts is $10 as of 2011, and $15 for claims over $1,001. City courts charge $15 for claims under $1,001 and $20 for higher claims.

File the forms. The clerk will give you the time and date of the hearing and serves notice on the employer. Mark down the date and time.

Talk to any witnesses you have. For example, another worker at the same job who knows you worked on the days and at the times you listed on the claim is a witness. New York allows witness testimony at small claims hearings. Give each witness the date and time of the hearing.

Attend the hearing. Bring witnesses and the original evidence with you. Arrive at least 15 minutes before the hearing time.

Tips & Warnings

  • New York allows the employer to offer you a settlement before the hearing. Get any settlement offers in writing before dismissing the claim.
  • Do not miss the small claims hearing.

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